People were gathered on the steps of the Uptown Baptist Church for prayer and a free meal Monday evening when a white sedan pulled up and someone inside sprayed the street with a high-powered rifle.
Five men went down as the car made a U-turn on Wilson Avenue and sped off, leaving a trail of nearly two dozen shell casings. Inside the church, speakers thought the shots were firecrackers and services continued for several more minutes.
"It was a constant bang, bang, bang," said Joseph Rogers, a security guard at the nearby Uptown Shop & Save at Wilson and Sheridan Road.
He rushed outside to see the white car fleeing west on Wilson and one wounded man on the church steps and three others on the street. "There was blood everywhere," Rogers said.
Police say five men between the ages of 21 and 58 were shot. The youngest victim was shot in the head and was in critical condition at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center, authorities said. Police initially said the man had died.
Three other victims were brought to Weiss Memorial Hospital: a 44-year-old man shot in the knee, a 58-year-old man shot in the hand and a 32-year-old man shot in the ankle. All were in good condition, police said. A 26-year-old man was shot in both arms and was reported stable at Illinois Masonic.
Police say the shooting was sparked by a conflict between two gangs in that section of Uptown, and patrols have been watching for any retaliation. The shooting occurred along a Safe Passage route mapped by Chicago Public Schools for the coming year. The getaway car was also found along the route, at McCutcheon Elementary School, 4865 N. Sheridan Rd.
The route has been laid out for children who are transfering to Brenneman Elementary this year from Stewart Elementary, one of dozens of schools closed by CPS.
A hearing officer, retired Cook County Judge Charles Winkler, had opposed the closing of Stewart, saying school officials and police could not guarantee the safety of school children who will now have to walk farther to school.
“Is there really enough time to get everyone up to speed so the 14,400 children from the closing schools are provided safe passage,” Winkler wrote. "Will an understaffed Chicago Police Department be able to provide enough officers to assist the Stewart children? Will CPS hire a private security company to furnish properly trained personnel?"
Mayor Rahm Emanuel acknowledged today that the shooting was "an early warning sign to all of us to be more on our toes than we were already on our toes."
Monday's shooting occurred shortly before 6 p.m. as the church was holding a prayer service where meals are offered to the homeless. Monday was taco night.
Eric Ray said he heard the shooting from the front pews. He said he frequents the neighborhood but avoids lingering at Wilson and Sheridan.
"I normally don't hang out on that corner," he said. "It's a bad corner."
Mike Gillhouse, 25, said he moved to Uptown from Wheaton last year and didn't know that shootings erupt in the neighborhood from time to time. Now, he wants to move further south into Lincoln Park or any other neighborhood that is safer.
"I guess I was naive. I figured after college ... I'd move to the city and try to find a job out here," he said just outside the red police tape cordoning off the intersection of Wilson and Sheridan. "Just, you know, move away from the suburban bubble so to speak. And I kind of regret that decision now."
He said he was getting off the CTA Red Line train at Argyle Avenue a few blocks away when he saw the "blue lights" at Wilson and Sheridan. Gillhouse said there's been warning signs about the neighborhood ever since he moved there last September.
"Just disreputable-looking folk roaming around, you know, (the train) station. Stuff like that," he said.
He said he commutes to the suburbs for work but still wanted to see what city living was all about. "I grew up in the suburbs," he said. "(I) thought maybe I'd see what life in the big city was like."
Tribune reporter Adam Sege contributed.